Donatello all in one place – Washington Examiner | Candle Made Easy

AAmong the great Italian artists of the 15th century who lent their names to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Michelangelo and Leonardo are perhaps the most popular, and Raphael’s art perhaps the finest, but none is as important in Renaissance history as Donatello. The case for Donatello’s pre-eminence in the evolution of Western art is now set forth in an extraordinary exhibition of over one hundred works, on view until July 31 in Florence, Italy, at the Fondazione Palazzo Strozzi and the Musei del Bargello.

Donatello was not only the primus inter pares among his fellow Italian artists, as Donatello: The Renaissance shows, but was also literally first among them. He introduced the artistic innovations that would become emblematic of the rebirth of classical art in the modern world.

Born Donato di Niccolo di Betto Bardi in Florence in 1386 to a family of modest means, Donatello came of age at a time of exciting incipient changes in the world of art. The Italian city-states and principalities re-interested in Greek and Roman antiquity, abandoning the medieval and Gothic styles of art that favored highly spiritualized depictions of the human and natural worlds. Forms of painting and sculpture that more fully embraced the classical values ​​of rationality, realism, and the unabashed celebration of naturalistic human beauty became increasingly popular. In addition to the up-and-coming merchant class and important patrons such as the Medici, church dignitaries also shared in the newly won appreciation of the old. Donatello, who had trained in this classical art style for several years in Rome, was well placed to capitalize on his Tuscan homeland’s growing admiration for classical art.

This exhibition brings together over 130 of Donatello’s artworks from over 50 museums around the world along with works by dozens of his artistic contemporaries, a once-in-a-lifetime look across dozens of generations at this master and why he matters. The result is a historical exhibition that shows how a humble artist from a humble background changed art history.

The work that best demonstrates Donatello’s importance is feast of Herod, which he created in 1425 as a decoration for the baptismal font of Siena Cathedral and which has had its permanent place in Siena for almost 600 years. Donatello depicts a scene from the New Testament in which Herod is brought the head of John the Baptist on a platter, after the sadistic king has granted his daughter everything she wished and, at her mother’s urging, demanded the Baptist’s immediate death prophet in such a way.

Unlike the medieval artists before him, who were more concerned with depicting idealized versions of human figures and the space they occupy, Donatello depicts each man and woman in the frame with groundbreaking detail – a reflection of the burgeoning individualism that to become one of the defining characteristics of Renaissance art and thought. And instead of depicting the scene on a flat, unrealistic, ethereal plane, as artists from the previous millennia did in their biblical scenes, Donatello portrays this incident as taking place in a real space in the real world. Medieval painters and sculptors have depicted biblical episodes for centuries, but none have captured the human drama and stirring emotions of such scenes quite like the Tuscan in the Feast of Herod. We can almost feel the shock in the banquet hall as Herod and his guests recoil in horror as the proto-Christian prophet’s severed head is placed on their table as if it were the soup of the day.

Early Renaissance artists such as Masaccio, Lorenzo Ghiberti, and Donatello’s colleague and friend Filippo Brunelleschi rediscovered the mysteries of perspective and reintroduced it to Italian art, but none was as proficient and pioneering in his use of perspective as Donatello. The influence of Donatello’s virtuoso use of perspective in Feast of Herod can be clearly seen in Leonardo The last supper (1495) and Raphael’s School of Athens (1509). These paintings are more famous, but Donatello’s seminal frieze came first.

While Donatello’s influence on painting was crucial, he worked primarily as a sculptor. Donatello: The Renaissance appropriately focuses most of his space and attention on this work. The joint exhibition juxtaposes Donatello’s sculptures with those of his contemporaries and shows how he revived classical art and infused it with an even greater capacity for psychological complexity.

Donatello’s sculptural achievements are most fully on display in the Bargello’s Donatello Room, where the museum has grouped a variety of sculptural depictions of David around Donatello’s 1428 bronze depiction of the biblical hero. When we think of David sculptures in the city of Florence, we think of the famous ones by Michelangelo David in the nearby Galleria dell’Accademia designed by Michelangelo between 1501 and 1504 for Florence Cathedral. Again, it was Donatello’s earlier version, created for the Medici Palace in Florence between 1428 and 1432, although a later Renaissance artist’s version of its overhauled courtyard provided Michelangelo with the revolutionary techniques that would enable him to create his later to create a more fabulous version of the biblical giant slayer.

Both Michelangelo and Donatello portray David before he became king – as a young shepherd from Bethlehem who wins the first of several savors of fame when he challenges the terrible Philistine giant Goliath to a duel. But where Michelangelo depicts David as a toned Greek athlete with a cropped Caesar haircut, Donatello’s David sculpture looks androgynous, or would without the visible genitalia. In fact, this work was the first free-standing nude statue since Greek and Roman antiquity. Had it not been for Donatello’s reintroduction of the classical nude in fifteenth-century Florence, we might never have had Michelangelo’s more famous rendition of this symbol of Florence. That is hardly its only meaning: this David is also notable for his pioneering use of the contrapposto, the technique of conveying dynamic weight shifts in a still statue.

When Donatello died in 1466, the Renaissance was well on its way to reaching its zenith. Verrocchio, Mantegna and Pollaiuolo created paintings and sculptures in the manner of Donatello, and Botticelli, Leonardo, Raphael and Michelangelo were soon to follow. These High Renaissance artists may have created larger paintings and sculptures, but according to Francesco Caglioti, professor of art history at the Scuola Normale di Pisa and curator of Donatello: The Renaissance, Donatello is “the greatest of all time.” While one can dispute – and I certainly would – Caglioti’s assertion, one cannot disagree with him and this exhibition that Donatello, even more so than Michelangelo, Raphael and Leonardo, is the most important artist of the Renaissance who “turned art history around 180 Degree.”

Daniel Ross Goodman is a Washington Examiner Contributing author and author, last by Somewhere Over the Rainbow: Miracles and Religion in American Cinema.

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